I had the best time on Sunday, learning to carve a wooden spoon with Paul Ryle, The Green Woodsmith. He's a man after my own heart. Using sustainable natural materials and traditional hand tools to make useful things. In this case, gorgeous spoons!
I've wanted to have a crack at green woodworking ever since I saw the show Mastercrafts with Monty Don. He had an episode on green woodworking and I was hooked! At the time I thought I had to save my pennies and travel all the way to the UK to learn. And then at this year's Lost Trades Fair I saw Paul and grabbed a flyer, heart thumping with excitement.
We started the day with a demonstration from Paul on splitting our timber into two pieces with an axe and removing the pith, again with an axe. There's a surprising amount of axe work in spoon carving and I really liked that in this workshop we started with a green tree branch and ended up with a finished spoon. I like to know the whole process so I can go home and do it myself. Because of course, I'm now all about carving spoons. It's my latest craft craze :o)
After Paul's demonstration we then chose our timber - I picked green Alder as I really wanted to work with green wood. I learnt from Paul that if you have green sections of trees, you should seal the ends with paint or beeswax so they don't dry out and crack before you work on them.
First step, cutting a branch in two followed by removing the pith. When I started with the axe I was really nervous and hesitant. I've never wielded an axe before and those things have wickedly sharp blades. The axes we were using were Scandi grind axes for carving. That means they're super sharp. After a while I began to get the hang of things and gained confidence.
That's a picture of my wood with the pith removed. Next step, drawing a sketch of my spoon on the wood. We had all of Paul's fabulous spoons to use as inspiration. Incredible to think that he gets them so smooth only using a knife - no sandpaper here, gulp! I decided to make a ladle for soups and stews. I've been looking for one with a metal ladle and wooden handle for years and haven't had any luck. What to do? Make my own!
On to more axe work. This time hewing out the spoon blank with the axe. At the end of this I had my spoon blank (yay!) and really sore hands from gripping the axe and carefully holding the wood, keeping my fingers well out of the way. Luckily it was time for lunch in the straw bales house that Paul and Jenny' built.
After lunch it was time to do the knife work and refine the shape of our spoons. Paul taught us three different strokes for shaping the spoon. The power stroke (for getting off stock), the push stroke (for shaping the back of the spoon) and the pull stroke (for shaping the handle). He also taught me another stroke (can't remember what it's called) for making a hook at the tip of my spoon handle. There are a lot more strokes you can use but these basic ones were safe and simple enough for us beginners. I really liked doing the knife work. It was really satisfying and addictive - I could see how you'd spend hours getting it lovely and smooth. I was tempted to spend all night in the shed, working away on my knife next to the wood stove :o)
Last step was carving out the bowl of the spoon with a crook knife - it's the one on the right in the above picture. The straight knife is a Mora 106 and is the one I used for the knife work. I loved this step as well. You get a really satisfying crunch sound as you carve away the wood with the crook knife. It felt a bit like peeling an apple and we used a stroke that Paul calls the spud peeling stroke. Although I did wish that I had gone for a smaller spoon as I was carving out the huge bowl of my ladle!
Doing the carving was amazing. The knife work just felt right. I've wanted to carve wood for years and it was wonderful to be finally doing it, in such a beautiful setting and with such a wonderful teacher!
I have serious envy of Paul's awesome workshop and tool collection neatly arranged on the wall. Organised and functional - sigh! One of the best things about this workshop was the range of tools from different makers that Paul had on hand to try out. I've been looking at tools online for a little while now, bewildered by the choices. Now I know that I like the Wetterlings Wilderness Hatchet for my axe work and the Mora 106 for knife work. To carve the bowl of the spoon I like the Hans Karlsson and Robin Wood Crook knives. The Karlsson for small bowls and the Robin Wood for larger bowls. I know what's on my birthday list this year!
This is my almost finished spoon (I have plans to order a straight knife and get rid of those pencil marks) next to it's other half. The dark green piece is the remainder of the branch that I split in two at the start of the day.
I've got calluses on my thumbs and palms from the axe and knives. As well as a feeling of deep satisfaction at making something with my hands and learning a new skill. I've also got a burning desire to make more spoons. And do more courses with Paul. I'm planning on coming back in summer and working in his outdoor shelter which looked amazing. I'll keep you posted.